Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Parts of the Course and a Working Principle

            I received a question earlier today about removing loose impediments in the area in which you are about to drop a ball.  While the specific answer and question was relatively straightforward (the Rules don’t prohibit removing loose impediments in this situation unless the drop and loose impediments are in the same hazard), it got me thinking about one of my favorite working principles of the Rules of Golf: different parts of the course are treated more or less favorably.
            One of the first things we teach newcomers to the Rules are the parts of the course: The Teeing Ground, Through the Green, Hazards (Bunkers and Water Hazards) and The Putting Green. Traditionally we discuss the FOUR parts of the course, but as you can see there are really FIVE and the Rules treat all five differently.

The Teeing Ground - The Most Favorable
            Players rarely realize it exactly how much leniency is really granted to the teeing ground.  Think of the specific permissions players get:
  • Players may tee the ball when starting the hole or when returning to the teeing ground under Rule 20-5 (either under penalty of stroke and distance or for a cancel and replay).
  • Players can remove water, dew and frost from the teeing ground.
  • Players can both create and eliminate irregularities of surface within the teeing ground.
  • Part of the philosophy behind this is simple – the ball typically isn’t in play yet.  When starting the hole, a player has not put a ball into play until the stroke is made from the teeing ground. When returning under Rule 20-5, the player also does not have the ball in play yet.  It can be moved anywhere within the teeing ground and the ball still has a long way to go to reach the hole. 

            Another part of the philosophy reaches back to the traditions of the game.  Teeing the ball stems from reaching into the bottom of the hole, scooping a pile of sand and playing the ball from that pile of sand within a specified distance of the previous hole.  To remove teeing the ball from the modern game would not only demolish driver sales and make the game more difficult, but it would also leave behind one of the original traditions of the game.
            What is interesting is that some of these permissions don’t go away if a ball ricochets and comes to rest back within the teeing ground.  Rule 13-2 doesn’t say that removing water, dew and frost from the teeing ground is limited to starting the play of the hole. In fact, it’s key to note that relief for immovable obstructions or abnormal ground conditions are granted when the ball lies within the teeing ground.  The implication is that the teeing ground of the hole being played does not lose its status, and therefore Rule 13-2’s specific permissions still apply! If this isn’t the case, I need a ruling from Golf House…

The Putting Green – Still Pretty Favorable
            On the putting green, because the ball is so close to the hole and the precision of the stroke is so important, where tiny variances and imperfections can dramatically impact the result of the hole, players are granted many special provisions:
  • Players can mark, lift and clean their ball on the putting green.
  • Players can repair ball-marks and old hole plugs on the putting green, even if the ball doesn’t lie on the green.
  • If a player accidentally moves his ball in the process of removing loose impediments, the player is not penalized when the ball lies on the putting green.
  • Sand and loose soil are loose impediments that may be removed when the sand and loose soil are on the putting green.
  • If a ball in motion after a stroke from the putting green is stopped or deflected by an outside agency or another ball, the stroke is canceled and replayed.
  • If the ball lies on the putting green, relief is also granted for interference on the line of putt by an immovable obstruction or abnormal ground condition on the putting green.
  • When the ball starts on the putting green, when taking free relief under a Rule, the ball is placed rather than dropped.
However, with all these specific permissions the ball is in play (obviously except when it’s been lifted and not replaced) and the putting green is also a playing surface. With that in mind there are some prohibitions that happen on the putting green that don’t occur on the teeing ground:
  • Dew, frost and water may not be removed from the line of putt or other area protected by Rule 13-2.
  • Players are not permitted to test the surface by rolling a ball, roughening or scraping.
  • Irregularities other than ball-marks or old hole plugs may not be repaired if it might assist the player in his play of the hole (or other players if done with intent).
  • Players cannot make a stroke while standing astride their line of putt.  This Rule was implemented to eliminate the croquet stroke.  Interestingly enough, this only applies when the ball lies on the putting green.
  • Players cannot make a stroke while another ball is in motion after a stroke from the putting green.  Practically, this is in place to help eliminate the likelihood of a cancel and replay situation under Rule 19-5.

Through the Green – The Standard
            Once a player’s ball lies through the green, the player is not entitled to as much freedom as is granted on the putting green.  Generally, shots from through the green are much longer strokes and a player is subject to the main principles of the Rules of Golf – play the ball as it lies and play the course as you find it.
  • Players may still remove loose impediments, however a penalty is incurred if the ball is moved in the process.
  • Players may not remove any irregularities of surface, including ball-marks, if in one of the areas protected by Rule 13-2.
  • The ball may not be lifted without permission from a Rule, and may not be cleaned unless lifted under one of those Rules (except the three covered by Rule 21).
  • Players are entitled to relief from immovable obstructions and abnormal ground conditions, however line of play relief is not included and the ball must be dropped, not placed.
  • Sand and loose soil are not loose impediments through the green and may not be removed from an area protected by Rule 13-2.

Bunkers – Don’t Hit it Here, but Still Not the Worst
            Many of the prohibitions under the Rules don’t differentiate between bunkers and water hazards.  They are both hazards and, for example, Rule 13-4 places the same prohibitions on both.  On the other hand, the Rules still give a little bit of leeway to a player in a bunker over someone in a water hazard.
  • Players can no longer remove loose impediments, touch the ground or test the condition of a hazard.
  • Players are still permitted relief from immovable obstructions and abnormal ground conditions in a bunker, however the relief must be taken in a bunker if the player wishes to take relief without penalty.
  • Players may still declare the ball unplayable in a bunker, but unless proceeding under stroke and distance, the ball must stay in the bunker.

Water Hazards – You’re Just Not Supposed to Hit it Here
            Water hazards are treated the least favorably under the Rules.  The prohibitions of Rule 13-4 apply but there are also some further prohibitions when a ball lies in a water hazard rather than a bunker:
  • No relief is available for interference by an immovable obstruction or abnormal ground condition.
  • The player may not declare a ball unplayable in a water hazard, he must proceed under Rule 26-1 in order to get the ball out.
Because water hazards are so severe compared to other parts of the course, the Rules do give two slight concessions to a player whose ball has come to rest in a water hazard in specific situations:
  • Rule 26-2 exists to help a player get out of the water hazard if he’s played a ball from within the hazard and failed to get it out (or hit it out of bounds or into an unplayable lie).
  • If the ball happens to be moving in water in the water hazard, a player is permitted to play the moving ball (prohibited elsewhere) and is not penalized for playing a wrong ball moving in water in the water hazard (because Rule 14-6 requires to player to play the moving ball without delay and without stopping to identify it in this rare situation).

            Certainly if you hunt through the Decisions or into some other Rules you may find other examples highlighting this principle or even some rare situations that appear contradictory, but those are main examples of how the Rules treat the various parts of the course progressively with less favor.

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